BlogFrom taboo to treatment: Patients reflect on 5 years of legal cannabis

From taboo to treatment: Patients reflect on 5 years of legal cannabis

17 min read

Editorial Team

Patients reflect on 5 years of legal cannabis


Patients in the United Kingdom were elated when the Home Office announced the legalisation of medical cannabis on November 1st 2018. Approximately 20,000 patients are prescribed legal cannabis-based medicinal products, mostly flowers, five years later. I spoke to six patients to find out how they feel about the law and what real-world impact it has had on their day-to-day lives. 

For most patients before 2018, the choice was to be legally ill and potentially incapacitated or be illegally well to ease your suffering but risk your freedom. Living under the constant threat of being criminalised for your medicine but ensuring  you have a good quality of life is one added stress that patients couldn't escape. Since the law changed and prescription prices have become much more affordable to more people, access has increased. There are more clinics operating and more doctors prescribing. That lingering fear and worry at the back of your mind when you try to sleep starts to melt away. 

As a patient who has experienced this transition, I can testify that any anxiety about carrying my medication in public or places that search bags or are packed with police, like sports stadiums or music venues, has melted away. In fact, it has made me feel more confident. I no longer need to prove to everyone I meet that cannabis is a medicine - because it is; it comes in a prescription pot from a pharmacy. Even if people don't know, there's not much need to convince them when they can see it themselves. More than anything, people ask me how it's possible to get a prescription, highlighting that more people are interested in legal medical prescriptions. 

I thought it would be interesting to hear from other patients about the differences they see since carrying a legal cannabis prescription.

Lezley Gibson and her husband Mark Gibson,

Lesley Gibson, MS

Lesley Gibson is an MS patient who spent most of her life campaigning for a legal cannabis prescription. Lesley has been treating herself with cannabis for over 25 years. She campaigned with THC4MS years before GW Pharmaceuticals were granted their licence in 1998, allowing them to start growing cannabis and running trials for an MS spasticity drug. In 2018 Lesley was raided by the police and arrested for growing cannabis to reduce the symptoms of her MS. By the time she came to court, she had a prescription proving that a doctor recognised her need for medical cannabis because they could see it improved her quality of life. With support from the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group headed by Crispin Blunt, a strong defence was put forward, and the judge saw sense in not giving her a criminal record.

"Hmm, it's a funny one. I'm still having it used as a weapon all these years later. Our neighbour has been very angry about the smell of cannabis; she is making accusations and assumptions after initially being very supportive, which is disheartening to still have to tolerate. I find the prescription process a bit of a minefield."

"My husband and I require a prescription, which is not always possible due to the cost. The service has certainly improved since I got my first one, but the hassle can be off-putting. I have to admit to finding it a bit too complicated."

"I had my Sativex confiscated by the police because it was out of date, but I was told to take it as needed, so I still had some left in the bottle. I would prefer to grow my own, but the law doesn't allow it. I thought a legal prescription would stop my fear of the police, but it hasn't; I think I have some sort of PTSD from years of persecution and repeated arrests for trying to live pain-free."

Lee Hutton, Belfast-based cannabis campaigner

Lee Hutton, Anxiety 

Lee Hutton is a Belfast-based cannabis campaigner and the host of the Canna Chat podcast. Lee works closely with multiple reform organisations across the UK and Ireland to keep the conversation moving forward, ensuring patients have a voice which can be translated into action that impacts them positively. N. Ireland's patient population is one of the largest in the UK, with over 3,000 patients receiving prescriptions. Lee is one of those patients that has been experiencing life through a slightly different lens. 

"I can finally combat my anxiety with natural medicine and treat my endocannabinoid system without fear of arrest. I have always been proactive about informing people that cannabis is my medicine, so those close to me are quite well educated about the benefits already. However, having a prescription has made them feel safer that I was in less danger of a criminal record for taking natural medicine.

"After seeing that I have one legally, a few people in my life have got prescriptions, to know they can replace quite a few medications without the nasty side effects those pharmaceuticals bring. The police have not stopped me, but I have been searched at the airport and questioned over my prescription. The bag inspector opened the pot and sniffed it; he told me it was too strong! I had to tell him that you can't smell the strength of the THC, and the aroma was terpenes which I'm not sure he had heard of before. After 20 minutes of deliberation, they let me continue my journey."

Clark French: founder of the United Patients Alliance

Clark French, MS

Clark French is the founder of the United Patients Alliance. Clark campaigned relentlessly for the law to change and has been one of the most visible cannabis campaigners in the UK over the past ten-plus years. Clark was diagnosed with relapse and remitting MS in 2010, which dramatically changed his life. Once an energetic vocalist performing on stage at rock concerts, he became homebound and only able to walk with a stick or be confined to a wheelchair when things got really bad for him. Clark was featured in a documentary film, "Grassroots - The Cannabis Revolution", which appeared on Netflix, covering the issue of medical cannabis and looking at the struggles patients face when they cannot live without legal medical cannabis access. Clark is currently working on his latest project Skunk Madness. This new documentary looks into the stigma around medical cannabis.

"We've come so far from where we were, but in other ways, we haven't come very far."

"In terms of being a father and my relationship with my son and social services, it's remarkable. I wouldn't dream of having a child without a legal prescription. It made me feel safe having legal medicine at the same time. Social services have been interested in my son and my cannabis consumption; whenever I've had it questioned, I have the backup of my clinic to know I don't have to worry about being a father and having the medical cannabis I need." 

"The quality of the prescriptions leaves a lot to be desired. The quality is poor, but the legal protection to consume my medicine has been amazing. I'm happy, but there's a lot of room for improvement. I find the pricing structures sometimes strange, and I dislike that if you want the right quality, you have to pay massively for it. Unfortunately, I can't afford the right ones, so I don't get to use the most effective ones for my symptoms. I need to improve my quality of life, which is the most important thing to me."

"I've enjoyed having less social anxiety. I used to dread meeting anyone new, but now I like meeting new people. When you meet someone who doesn't know medical cannabis is legal, you can whip out the prescription and show them; their jaw drops. I find it interesting to meet new people rather than being anxiety-inducing; I don't think I realised how much weight the prohibition of medical cannabis put on my life meeting new people. I would always fear being judged, I knew it helped me, but society didn't accept it. Now it's changed how comfortable I feel without that weight being there any more. I reflected and realised it was the stigma of being judged by others. It's incredible to break out of that; we're not fully out of it. It's a step in the right direction and made me feel more comfortable with my place in the world."  

"My family were always worried pre the legal prescription, but now we've had a complete turnaround. Everyone gets it; they support me. It's a huge change having them worried about me using something illegal, and I'd get arrested - and it was a drug. My Dad didn't want me to get in trouble; I realised how it was a concern rather than being so against it. Now I have the prescription; even my grandma, who wasn't sure I should be using cannabis, is using CBD cream for her arthritis now; she wants to know more. So it's not just changed their perception of me but also changed it for them. What was once out of the question is now something they are keen about."

Farhan Hussain, aka Mayor Green

Mayor Green, Fibromyalgia & FND

Farhan Hussain, aka Mayor Green, is well-known in the cannabis patient community. You may have encountered him at one of the many community events in the UK. Despite Farhan's diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, he still manages to - with some challenges - travel a fair amount which he says is all thanks to receiving a legal prescription. Mayor Green's identity lifts people's spirits worldwide with the sincere message of love and health prosperity that he spreads. 

Being such an eye-catching attraction, many people want to take the time to speak to Farhan about what he does, and he uses the opportunity to tell people about medical cannabis, the law and how patients can access legal prescriptions so they might be able to benefit from a better quality of life in the way that he has. Recently Farhan had an unfortunate accident where he fell and fractured his spine in several places leading to a long stay in the hospital and a slow recovery. He has also been diagnosed with Functional 

Neurological Disorder (FND), and is finding medical cannabis improves the symptoms. 

Farhan was excited to tell us just what level of impact a legal prescription has had on his life. It is inspiring to hear that even through the troubles he faces as a chronically ill patient, he is pushing the boundaries to continue normalising cannabis medicine.

"Oh my god, what a difference it has made! It's built up my confidence!"

"I was the first patient at Croydon University Hospital to have my medical cannabis prescription included in my hospital prescriptions and have the hospital staff, healthcare and security staff accommodate me by taking me outside four times a day to administer my prescription medication through inhalation legally with the assistance of the staff. I can stay outside for up to an hour and then ask to be brought back to the ward. The prescription has to be kept in a controlled drug cabinet. So many nurses and doctors didn't believe it initially and said they had to check if I was telling the truth. I had to educate them about it, show them what it looks like, and make them aware not to touch it because it's my medicine."

"Even in my discharge papers, it says I am prescribed medical cannabis and what the dose is. It's been absolutely a life-changing experience. I am more confident about being able to go out and about when my health condition allows it and to medicate without the fear of being arrested or having my medication confiscated or getting a caution or criminal record, and prison time, to be able to take my medicine legally. I could come to cannabis events where police were involved because I was confident I wouldn't have an issue with them, and they wouldn't have an issue with me. I can just be in public places without any worry now. Everything has changed for the better; a legal cannabis prescription helps calm my anxieties down."

Mohammad Ismail Wasway, Greg De Hoet & Shazia Eliah

Mohammad Ismail "Ish" Wasway, 

Mohammad Wasway founded The Sanskara Platform as a way to help give patients who were being underrepresented and discriminated against by authorities a voice, assistance, and a reminder of their rights. The success of the platform is already starting to be seen with strong relationships being forged with clinics, cannabis businesses and other patient organisations. Mohammad and his team have helped improve the confidence of patients travelling with their medical cannabis prescription, helping patients who have been stopped while driving with cannabis in their system from losing their driving licence and advocated for patients who have faced eviction over the smell of their legal medical cannabis prescription. It is safe to say the work Mohammad and The Sanskara Platform are doing is very necessary - although everything they are working on is voluntarily as a non profit organisation.

“The legal prescription of cannabis has transformed my life in the last five years, significantly enhancing my well-being and altering my perception of this medicinal plant. Initially, accessing cannabis through prescription seemed limited to those with rare medical conditions and high costs. However, two years after legalisation, I discovered medical cannabis was prescribed for my conditions."

"Despite this newfound opportunity, it took months to gather the courage for a consultation due to delays in receiving the necessary Summary of Care Record from my GP. Finally, after the consultation, receiving my cannabis medicine was euphoric. A DPD delivery brought the much-anticipated relief to my doorstep, filling me with joy and a desire to share the news."

"As a South Asian patient, discussing my prescription is challenging in my conservative Muslim family. Despite this, I continue demonstrating cannabis's benefits and its relation to culture and religion."

"With a decade of cannabis experience, adapting to medicinal consumption was relatively smooth. However, my doctor recommended using a dry herb vaporiser was a shift from my usual routine. The lack of clear instructions led me to acquire a budget vaporiser, creating a challenge. The product quality compounded the issue, with an unpleasant aroma and appearance resembling degraded matter."

"Despite my valid prescription, a legal issue arose when I was arrested on a friend's property cultivating cannabis. My prescribed cannabis was confiscated, leading to a distressing day in police custody. Medical personnel refused my medication, and my plea was met with dismissal. In the aftermath, I navigated the challenging process of reclaiming my prescription, aided by my father's intervention."

"The broader landscape of medical cannabis highlighted product disparities and awareness gaps. Fueled by shared struggles, I founded The Sanskara Platform to support patients and advocate for change."

"Three years later, progress is evident: product standards improved, costs moderated, and awareness increased. Yet, challenges persist, requiring local producers to enhance supply and standards. Comprehensive recognition of patient rights remains a goal."

"The journey continues, aiming for broader access and recognition of cannabis' medicinal value. My cannabis medicine continues to improve my quality of life.”

Shazia Eliah, ADHD & Depression

Shazia Elahi is part of The Sanskara Platform team advocating for medical cannabis prescription patients who need to learn about their rights and have someone to speak up on their behalf if they are being discriminated against. Shazia has found that contributing to improving BAME patients' lives, often underrepresented in the cannabis patient space and industry, leads to better outcomes and a more positive experience.

"I am a South Asian woman. I come from a British Pakistani background and was born and raised in South East London. Despite cannabis existing in our history for thousands of years, it was and still is a big deal in my community. Opening up about my cannabis use to my family and friends has been an incredible journey but has come with many struggles. The stigma, the shame, the guilt, the fear - going through it all has been incredibly isolating."

"I use cannabis to help me with ADHD, Anxiety and Depression. I pay for my legal prescription monthly, as the NHS has still not recognised me as a patient. I don't tell everyone I use CBMPs because of the stigma and the fear of not finding work. I don't even feel comfortable using my vape outdoors in public spaces as prescription holders are still not recognised by all police. Being a legal prescription holder comes with many struggles; I don't know if I'll be stopped by the police tomorrow whilst I'm out driving - the anxiety can be too much to bare."

"Many have judged me as a substance abuser and an addict, but not many have asked me why I use cannabis and how it helps me. I can finally finish reading a full page without zoning out every 30 seconds. I am no longer binge-eating; struggling with my weight has been an incredible self-worth-destroying journey, but I'm finally at peace with it, thanks to CBMPs." 

"I can finally focus at the gym and finish a routine without boredom. I don't spend as much time procrastinating in the morning due to feeling overwhelmed. I can enjoy my life each day without being clouded by feelings of depression, and I am more present than ever before with friends and family. Most importantly, I can get a good night's rest to be ready to tackle the next day."

"Thanks to CBMPs, I have seen significant improvements in the quality of my life." 

"I know that I am not alone and want to support others too. That's why I'm spending my spare time writing stories from individuals from BAME backgrounds who self-prescribe cannabis or have a legal prescription."


As you can see, legal cannabis prescriptions have positively impacted all of the patients' lives we have spoken to but not in equal measure. Whilst some patients have found the stigma has been removed almost entirely for them, others still feel the tension and anxiety caused by the daily reminder that not everyone is fully accepting yet keeps the problems caused by prohibition lingering. Everyone is finding it easier to talk about now, and more importantly, there is a desire and confidence to advocate for others that are less able to in their moment of need. 

Releaf is committed to helping you access the benefits of a medical cannabis service. Our monthly packages are tailored to your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Editorial Team

Article written by the Releaf Editorial Team, a group of seasoned experts in cannabis healthcare, dedicated to enhancing awareness and accessibility in the field through their wealth of knowledge and experience.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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